Shared with permission from the South Dakota Banker’s Association.
Bill Baker (right) grew up in the southeast part of Sioux Falls and said he was a “free-range” kid. He was allowed to ride bikes with his friends all over Sioux Falls, which was much smaller at that time. In addition to playing neighborhood sports, Baker was interested in model railroading.
He and his friends were involved in Scouting and become Explorer Scouts on the Burlington Northern Railroad. They were allowed to hitch rides in the engine rooms or cabooses of freight trains between Sioux Falls and Ruthton, Minn.
Before entering high school, Baker spent time during the summers on a great aunt and uncle’s ranch near New Underwood, where he helped mow and rake hay, harvest cane seed, and brand and move cattle. He also worked at the weekly feeder pig auctions at the Sioux Falls Stockyards herding pigs between the pens and the sale floor.
“Those things all provided some good foundational background for me,” Baker said. “I learned, I made some mistakes and I discovered the value of customer service.”
During high school and college, Baker worked summers at resorts in northern Minnesota, first as a dock boy and later setting up conferences, bar tending and eventually as the night auditor at Grand View Lodge, where he met his wife, Peg. At the time, Baker was interested in a career in resort management. After earning an economics degree from the University of South Dakota School of Business, Baker spent the summer before graduate school working in internal audit at FNBSF, which was his first job at the bank. He went on to earn his master of business administration at the University of Michigan.
“I went to graduate school at Ann Arbor still thinking about career options. I took some banking courses, and they had a good banking faculty there,” Baker said. “One gentleman was Douglas Hayes, who was the father of asset liability and bank balance sheet management. I took his class and learned a lot from him and got really interested in banking and lending, the theory of lending and the theory of interest rate risk management.” Baker spent the summer during his MBA program as a financial analyst at Stroh Brewery Company, which led him to become more serious about a financial career. Midway through his second year in Michigan, Baker was firmly set on working at the bank.
Baker returned to Sioux Falls in 1984 and began working at FNBSF in an entry-level management training program. He spent six months doing two-week rotations in all of the bank’s departments and some of its branches. Baker next spent a year working in credit review and learning from his manager, Jim Berg, who was a former OCC examiner.
“That was one of my most valuable experiences as a young banker, that and working that summer in audit,” Baker said. “Both cases were an opportunity to get around the bank and meet people— in the case of audit to really dig into the operations and learn how things work and in the case of credit to get into the loan files and learn how the bank underwrote credit and made money.”
He next worked as a consumer installment lender for a couple of years before going into commercial lending. From 1987 to 1995, Baker served as a business banker before becoming executive vice president. “I had a lot of fun and a great experience and was able to help launch some entrepreneurial businesses here in Sioux Falls that are still customers of the bank now 30 years later,” Baker said. “That was very rewarding.”
Be on the lookout for Part 3!